I've had the chance to review the Big Ten Network's preseason tour stop at Penn State, which featured snippets from Joe Paterno's normally top-secret practices.
Here are some thoughts and observations:
We didn't get to watch a ton of tape on the quarterbacks, but it's easy to see why folks are getting excited about true freshman Robert Bolden. He's very impressive physically, and his arm strength was obvious on several throws, including one over a defender and into the arms of a diving Derek Moye. Bolden moves around well in the pocket, and he's very good on his pass drops for a young player. The Big Ten Network analysts agreed, as both Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith picked Bolden as Penn State's starter for the opener.
DiNardo said both Kevin Newsome and McGloin have had time to create separation, but it just hasn't happened yet. "Bolden has separated himself physically from the other guys," DiNardo said. "To me, he throws the ball a lot better than his competition."
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno told the BTN crew that limiting turnovers and managing the game will be the top priorities early on for Penn State's quarterback. "Right now, we're looking for a guy that's going to not lose the game for us and make plays when he has to," JayPa said. While both Jay Paterno and Joe Paterno didn't rule out playing two quarterbacks, they'd strongly prefer one to emerge.
DiNardo, Griffith and host Dave Revsine were very impressed with Penn State's younger players, particularly at the offensive skill positions. They singled out sophomore wideout Devon Smith as someone who can contribute both in the passing game and on returns. Smith showed good speed in the drills we saw. "They have to find a way to get him the ball in this offense," Griffith said.
The BTN crew also liked freshmen running backs Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes, who they feel can challenge junior Stephfon Green for the backup spot behind Evan Royster. Both Redd and Dukes bring a physical running style, but I'm not ready to count out Green one bit. Although labeled a speed guy, he actually has decent size. Green had a nice run during the 9-on-7 portion of practice, hitting the hole and then bouncing outside.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges really stood out to me. He landed several big hits on Green and looks like he can be a solid contributor this fall. The BTN crew said Michael Mauti, who comes off of an ACL injury, didn't look 100 percent.
The 9-on-7 drill started with the offensive line getting decent push up the middle, but soon enough, Penn State's defensive front emerged. Sophomore end Pete Massaro did a nice job of closing gaps up the middle.
Defensive end Jack Crawford and linebacker Chris Colasanti stood out in individual drills. Crawford is a big dude at 6-5, 256, but he keeps his pads low. Colasanti brings it as a hitter.
A classic JoePa line when asked to assess the team: "Sloppy, not sure of themselves, lack of leadership, no quarterback. Other than that, we're pretty good." He also talked about special teams costing Penn State the Iowa game last year, and how it can't happen again.
While Penn State almost certainly will be a run-heavy team early, JoePa knows he'll need the quarterbacks to do more. He doesn't want to see a good group of receivers go to waste.
Final thought: Penn State's defense will be fine this fall. It comes down to the offensive line, generating a consistent run and limiting mistakes from the quarterback spot. Bolden's play certainly is encouraging.